Unilever, IFAD Form Public-Private Partnership to Benefit Smallholder Farmers Worldwide

Unilever recently announced a public-private partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) aimed at helping to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers around the world.

The goal of the 5-year global agreement — the first of its kind by IFAD with the private sector — is to help improve food security through:

  • raising agricultural productivity
  • linking farmers to markets
  • reducing risk and vulnerability
  • improving non-farm rural employment
  • making agriculture more sustainable.

IFAD president Kanayo Nwanze said, “It is not enough to focus narrowly on boosting agricultural productivity. Instead, a broader approach that also supports the establishment of viable linkages between rural producers and markets is essential.

“IFAD recognises that the right types of investments in agriculture are essential to food security for a growing population. That is why partnerships like the one we have signed today with Unilever are so critical.”

Scoping exercises have already begun looking at ways to leverage IFAD’s knowledge and expertise in working with small-scale farmers and rural enterprises with Unilever’s ability to integrate farmers into markets and its expertise in sustainable agriculture. These have included a joint field mission to review an IFAD-supported project that took place in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, Western India in January 2014, focused on spices and onions.

About 1.2 billion people live in poverty, 76 percent of whom live in rural areas; and 200 million are unemployed, according to IFAD. This will be exacerbated as the growing population demands more food — a 70 percent increase in global agricultural production will be essential to feed a projected 9 billion people by 2050, as we’ll need to produce as much food between now and then as we have done in the last 10,000 years. Unless higher small and large crop yields can be reached, many people will remain hungry and trapped in poverty.

According to the World Bank, investment in agriculture is 2-4 times more effective in raising incomes among the very poor than growth in other sectors.

“Now, more than ever, the world needs to increase investment in agriculture and this investment must come from both the public and private sectors to effect truly scalable transformational change,” said Unilever CEO Paul Polman. “Both smallholder and large-scale agriculture are necessary to boost productivity and produce enough food to feed the world’s poor. In order to move from subsistence to commercial farming, 1.5 billion people who rely on small farms need access to knowledge, assets, credit, markets, and risk management that can come from larger-scale business enterprises.”

The partnership seems a natural fit for the two organizations, which have similar geographic footprints and countries (including China, India and Indonesia) that are key to development and growth, and are both guided by similar goals and principles, including commitments to improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers and eradicating poverty.

Through a program of loans and grants supporting over 256 projects across 97 countries, IFAD is helping 78.7 million rural people receive services to move out of poverty. Women in particular are targeted, accounting for about 50 per cent of participants in projects in 2013.

And since November 2010, Unilever has been making headway on its Sustainable Living Plan, a ten-year journey towards sustainable growth – with the aim of helping more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being, sourcing all its agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020, and decoupling its growth from its environmental impact. Supporting these three big goals are seven pillars including three focusing on enhancing livelihoods, sustainable sourcing and nutrition.

Unilever says it has increased the number of smallholders trained in sustainable practices to roughly 450,000 since the end of 2010.

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